Wednesday, December 30, 2009

In Baltimore we went with Chris to the Walter's Museum, to meander through the marvelous collection that Henry Walters and his father assembled.  What an eye for quality they had!  Nearly every piece in there is worth spending time with.

Afterwards, we stopped at a shop and I bought a Tibetan singing bowl.  It is black and embossed with lettering that I don't understand.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

I stacked my father's firewood 7 feet high and when I was done, the whole construction, every last stick of it, fell over with an earth shaking crash.  How embarrassing. 

Chastened, I stacked it again 5 and a half feet high.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Day after Christmas and we were dragging.  I took a nap, which I hadn't done since an eye doctor's appointment back in November had so disarranged my schedule that I'd forgotten to drink coffee.  Monica took a nap at 11 a.m.  Cathie was considering her second nap when Monica figured out that the coffee she had brewed said "DEC" not because it had something to do with December, but because it had no caffeine.  Everyone was appalled.  Proper coffee was brewed.

Friday, December 25, 2009

christmas 2009

A Holiday food journal . . . .

On Christmas eve Monica cooked her roast pork.  Rubbed with olive oil, breadcrumbs, garlic and rosemary, cooked in it's own juices; baked red potatoes with butter or with the juices from the roast; asparagus and sauteed dark mushrooms; unsweetened apple sauce on the side; red wine and cider.

Anna had sent tins of homemade Christmas cookies from California and Cathie and Eric's neighbor had sent chocolate truffles.  Peppermint tea and egg nog.  Chocolate from Lititz.

On Christmas morning, the boys can loot their stockings as soon as they get up (this year at 6:45), but the opening of the presents happens after breakfast.  Fred had brought in bagels and lox cream cheese from Brooklyn with him.  Chris had made banana bread.  Cathie cut open a pannetone she had made with white raisins.  There was black coffee and hot tea.

For Christmas dinner Mom prepared a 21 pound free-range, organic turkey -- and lunch was the platter of turkey meat, mountains of mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce, Chris' sweet potatoes and baked apples, Monica's green bean casserole, Cathie's creamed corn, rolls, pickled beets - glasses of red wine or an airy Belgium beer that Eric uncorked; sparkling grape juice for the boys.

For the desultory grazing that served as supper, Cathie baked fresh breads and laid out several wonderful goats' cheeses that she'd made.  Chris produced a rich camembert.  The cookies, breads, pannetone from earlier all re-emerged.  Cathie's gift to me, a bottle of 15-year old Laphroaig, was opened.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

I lay on my back in the snow, watching the stars materializing in the blue evening haze.  You can't catch them appearing -- only notice that they are there -- where they weren't a moment ago.  I wondered, as I lay on my back with the cold earth draining life's warmth from my body, whether my core would begin to compensate by burning more hotly.  Maybe it did, but the winter earth could absorb it all.

I gathered with friends around a cauldron of fire to celebrate the solstice and we all spoke of the things that the turning of the year meant to us -- that moment, that shift, when the light begins inevitably to increase rather than decrease.  Icy wind brought a writhing to the flames and the orange coals throbbed.  Cold never depresses me.  I love the snow and the division of nature into the dormant and the determined.  (As one around the fire put it, there is something powerfully revitalizing about winter's dormancies.)  But it's true that the days are grown too short and the nights too long.  That solstice shift not only signals the returning balance of the light, but it also affirms that planetary clockwork that brings spring and summer back.

We all warmed ourselves inside the house with rich, dark hot chocolate.

Monica and Nico took the train into New York City where they went to museums, looked at mummies, ate knishes and bagels, sledded the hills of Central Park, and shopped at Rockefeller Center.  Nico sang made-up songs to himself as he and the commuters made their way home northeastwards.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Riffing on one of Denver's daily poems:

4 out of 5 semioticians, 
when cornered, 
will assert that the opposite of somersault is not winter sugar.  
But some of the less well-moored will wink as they say it, 
just in case.

and stapling a black tailfeather onto one of his drowning ghazals:

My son is the raven of glittering eye
And he thinks that we send too few to the sky.

It is good, I think, to stir hot poetry into the morning's second cup of black coffee.

Denver and Sawako and Joseph have been reminding me . . . .

Sunday, December 20, 2009

15 inches of powdery snow on a Sunday morning.

Exclamations of joy from the boys as they woke.

Now, an igloo is rising in the yard,
a hillock of snow,
enfirmed by a thousand hand pats
 a hundred shovel wumps
and two score full-body flops.
All hollowed out and inhabited
by boys.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

One political party is corrupt and the other party even more corrupt and batshit insane as well.  Watching the Senate transform health care reform into a big wet kiss to the insurance industry is more evidence - if any was needed - that Congress is intent on finding a way to serve its corporate buddies even when those interests are diametrically opposed to the interests of the country and its people.

Congress' plan is to solve the uninsurance problem, not by fostering competition through some version of a public option, but instead by subsidizing a predatory and monopolistic insurance industry with billions, if not trillions of dollars in subsidies -- and forcing by mandate of law that everyone buy the offensively defective products that this industry provides.

Essentially, a treasonous coalition of callous Republicans and corrupt Democrats (and one megalomaniacal Independent), unhindered by an (at best) over-polite and (at worst) complicit President, are condemning millions of people to poor health, diminished lives and early deaths.

If the old saying is true that a people gets the government it deserves, we need to work on deserving a better government than this band of fools and sociopaths.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Least favorite sound: 
the sound of one of my son's bodies hitting the hard surfaces and sharp edges of the world.
Favorite sound: 
the happy, stretchy sigh that a person makes when they are waking up happy to see you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Porter has been on stage performing a number of small parts in the upper school musical.  As a sixth-grader, he's gone from big kid in the lower school to young kid in the upper school, and he looked young amid the seventh, eight and ninth-graders.   He likes it, I think, and looks comfortable on stage - though in this one he had no individual speaking or singing part.  In some ways, it seems that Nico is more the natural actor, because he is so inextricably in tune with narrative and with audience and with effects upon that audience.  For Porter I think the play is more simple and contained -- lines and movements to be mastered and practiced. He does it well, but I suspect that for him the audience is an afterthought.  For Nico it never is and maybe he'll stay too self-conscious to put himself into the spotlight.  Each of them will grow into performance in their own ways, I suppose.

I dropped him off at the school to do whatever preparations they do and went into Stonington Borough to kill the time.  I had no money in my pocket for a bowl of soup, so I went for walk.  The borough is on a spit of land reachable only by an ugly modern bridge that passes over the railroad tracks.  On a normal night, it is a charming town with well-preserved, beautiful colonial buildings, both grand and modern, and a main street of shops, boutiques and restaurants.  Tonight though, a brutally cold wind was whining in off the Sound and the streets were mostly deserted and dark.  It seemed like I was walking in an older, starker, more enduring Stonington -- along these buildings that had withstood centuries of winds like this and ones even colder and wilder.  Not that there was anything false or inauthentic about the New England Charm that could draw in the tourists -- this was just the latest source of livelihood and prosperity that sustains people on this headrock on the sea.  But the boutiques and the fresh paint were a thin veneer upon something that would outlast, and this night, with that pitiless wind, the town felt to me like a huge and able creature that had laid down for the moment its efforts to charm, and was gamely and contentedly surviving.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Can you keep up with the 8-year-olds?

At Nico's birthday party, 11 of them had to navigate the clues to find the treasure at the end . . .

The rebus told them where to look for the first set of scrolls:

[Once there, they dug out:]

Your knees might see where the next clue hides,
If knees only had eyes and were able;
But you’d best have a seat, where you’re planning to eat,
And then maybe peek un_____ the __________.

[In 2 seconds they were under every picnic table, finally to find a scroll that read:]

Porter is a name that means gatekeeper,
and this time it’s he who holds the next key.
But he won’t just give it away.
By the pond you can hear what he’ll say.

He is hidden away in plain view.
He’ll tell you the goods that he wants from the woods,
and let you all earn the next clue.

24 leaves from 6 different trees
A rock that looks just like an egg;
Two sticks near the lake –
each looks like a snake
and 4 braided strands made of plants.

 [And when they had done that -- eight of them together finally carrying to him an enormous, braided hempen rope frozen into the shape of a snake -- Porter told them:]
Look to Vulpes vulpes!
 [There at the feet of the taxidermist's specimen they found:]
Who’s behind in finding clues?
Hurry up! you don’t want to lose!
You’re on Treasure’s tail, use your wits,
And look to where the birthday boy sits.

 [They got the joke eventually and found a camera chip  -- 
plugged it in and saw a hand slipping the next clue beside the striped skunk's den.]

Are you scared of bears?
If so beware.
For he guards the very next clue.
But if you take care
As you reach into his lair,
He probably won’t bite you.

[Snatched from beneath the snarling bear head
mounted upon the wall:]
Whoever of you has a birthday in June
(or the farthest away from today!),
will have to ask en Español
because only Señora can say
where next clave is hidden away.
And ‘cause she’s muy stricto,
 You’d better ask nice
Or your treasure stays hidden away!

Have you ever seen the shape of an elephant’s foot?
Or that of a birthday cake?
Have you ever seen the belly of an oriole?
Or the belly of a ring-necked snake?
Put these clues together and you just might find.
That the treasure’s been in view this whole entire time!

[And so it was,
a bright orange cylinder brimming with gems and jewels
 and gilded chocolate coins.]

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

school projects

Nico went to the zoo
 to feed the snow leopards
 a paper mache crane

that they had made in class.

The zookeepers filled it with meat.

He was pleased with the picture he took of the cat.

Porter made an atl atl and paleolithic hardwood darts were arc'ing across the sky.

And there was Nico's diorama of a habitat for the herring gulls.

I'd suggested a town dump scene but was vetoed by Monica and Nico.

Monday, December 7, 2009

In Philadelphia thousands of anthropologists gathered for the American Anthropological Association meetings.  And so I went to a handful of the 500 panel meetings, met old friends, looked over the latest books, wrote the beginnings of my own, made new contacts, learned things, and generally played anthropologist from Thursday through Sunday.

I think the last time I went to the meetings I came away feeling alienated from the field.  This time I came away energized and inspired to do some writing and publishing.  Marysia and I made a solemn pact to write for an hour each day (or 5 hours a week).  We shook on it.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I saw friends from high school this visit.  Kirk and Neal and Vicki.  They're still as sharp and odd and interesting as they were 25 years ago - even with houses and kids and pets and spouses.  I had it pretty good back then with my circle of friends.  Neal is a musician, Kirk a professor of geography, Vicki a teacher.  And Denver's a poet in New York and Montie a fashion designer in Pittsburgh.  I'm an anthropologist.  I wonder what others are doing.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A mast-straight oak tree two and half feet across had been standing over my parents house and the treemen finally dropped it down over into the woods.  So my father and I sweated off the turkey and stuffing with cant hook, maul and chainsaw.  He'll be 70 this May and his knees don't like to carry logs up rough hillside any more.  So my task was to move the wood up for us to split and haul and stack.

There had been 13 for Thanksgiving this year.  The feasting was wonderful, as usual, though Mom was annoyed that the farm had given her a huge 26 pound tom instead of the tastier hen she'd ordered.  Fred came up from New York and Dan came down from the Poconos with his friend Dowling.  Chris returned from traveling in Texas, and Cathie and Eric supplied a miniature dachshund and a 16-month-old Bridget.  (Bridget was in an impatient tyrannical mode, but loved to go outside and pick up shards of hickory shells from under the trees.)

Everyone but me trickled away back to their homes Friday and Saturday.